Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick, C.J. Wilson
Written by Kenneth Lonergan
Running Time: 137 mins
Release date: 13th January 2017
A word of warning about Manchester By The Sea. This isn’t a film about football or that a Northern town has moved to the coast. This is a powerhouse, slow-burning tale of grief and contained emotions that not only will knock you out with a series of incredible performances as well as a career-changing one for the lead but will leave you physically shaking and playing over the key moments in your head long after the screen has gone dark.
Lee Chandler is an emotionally cold man who works as a janitor. He has to return to his hometown when his brother suddenly dies. Forced to take the responsibility for his brother’s son, Patrick, Lee finds himself in a position that he doesn’t want to be in, coping with the finer points of his brother’s estate, his nephew’s growing anger over his future and a past event that has affected him forever.
With only two previous films under his belt as writer and director, the little seen Margaret and his superb debut, You Can Count On Me, Kenneth Lonergan has decided to create a tale of how one man is living through his own private hell and how that affects everyone close to him or even just walking past him. Its strength lies in the fact that it refuses to rush. Lonergan’s script allows his actors to fully develop their character, thus creating a real world that never once feels false and while you may dislike Lee at the start, you slowly understand his plight and why he acts as he does.
Using the beautiful scenery around the setting, with some stunning cinematography from Jody Lee Lipes, moments filled with snapshots of the watery backdrop, Lonergan has managed to intersperse the fishing bay as another character, almost as a mood setter for the film. This is a movie that is just as much about tone and pace as it is the story of death and its effects. The silences often speak louder than any word.
At 137 minutes, Lonergan has plenty of time to build on his central character. A man who has distanced himself from his past, yet finding himself having to confront it, causing him to react, often violently. Lee isn’t a character that you immediately root for, yet without being forced, you find yourself on his side emotionally, understanding why he does what he does, especially in one heart-breaking sequence in the middle of the film where everything suddenly makes sense. To help you along with this emotional ride is a breath-taking performance from Casey Affleck as Lee.
Affleck, who often has been downplayed and ignored as a leading man, mainly finding himself as a secondary character, is magnificent here. Constantly etched across his face is a man desperately trying to hide his emotions and yet is full of pain and inner torment. It’s a mesmerising performance and one, that has already been touted for Oscar glory, that is bound to stay with you for a very long time.
Yet it is not just Affleck who is superb. Newcomer Lucas Hedges, as Patrick, is equally good as the teenage boy who is having to cope with the death of his father, still show his independence, even though it’s been handed over to Lee and trying to find a place in the world. It is Michelle Williams, as Lee’s former wife, who really pulls out all the stops and shows that there are no small parts. Hardly a central character, she devastates in one brief scene that will have you diving for your hankies. It’s proof, once more, what a magnificent actress she is.
Manchester By The Sea is a hard film to enjoy and yet it’s a hard film to hate either. Don’t get me wrong, it does have moments of humour and moments of warmth. It also has moments that will stay with you and if you allow the time, it is unbelievably satisfying. Lonergan is a writer and director to watch, while Affleck and Williams should be collecting the prizes come Award season. A magnificent piece of movie making and story telling.